article 59: BIRDBRAIN

Back in article 36 I wrote about my admiration for kuro udaidori. This is the Japanese name for the European blackbird, Turdus merula merula. It means, schlicht und ergreiffend, “black songbird”. The four or five males which, early in every spring, begin skirmishing for territory in the woods which surround our house on three sides are eventually reduced to two. Morning, afternoon and evening they enforce their rights, announcing their presence with the astounding improvisations I’ve been admiring since moving here.

I recently had the temerity to try and converse with these great artists. They always pause after every short melody, to listen whether any rival will challenge them. Sometimes a dialogue with the neighbor bird will ensue, inspiring each to his best efforts. What would Kuro-chan do, I wondered, if I joined in?

So when I happened to be outside and a bird was patrolling, I started calling out “kuro-kuro-kuro” during his pauses, in repeated descending major thirds – admittedly a pathetic effort. But I got various reactions. Sometimes the pauses would be longer than usual, while my interlocutor considered this nonsense. Then he would go on as usual. Other times he would just fly away in disgust, or ignore me altogether.

But then one of the birds began adding more descending major thirds to his complex songs, as if trying to show me what might be done with the material offered. And finally, the other day ”kuro-kuro-kuro” came back to me in all its banality. Just once. I felt as proud as if my newly-composed opera had been premiered at Covent Garden.

But the critter wasn’t done humbling me. Yesterday he sent me my message back in inversion: rising thirds. I felt as Daniel Steibelt must have, when Beethoven, after listening to the charismatic charlatan play his newly published variations, sat down at the fortepiano, turned the score upside-down, pounded out Steibelt’s theme in inversion and commenced improvising on it until Steibelt slunk out of the room.

One of the feathered black conspirators has taken up the inverted theme as part of his repertoire, unaltered. This in stark contrast to the infinite variety he usually exhibits. He tortures me with it through the open windows on these hot days. And this evening I heard it with six repercussions instead of three, which I suppose he considers to be diminution on top of inversion. What next? Cancicrans? Two birds in canon?

Basta. No more messing with The Master. I will continue to listen in reverent silence, until the fatal hour, now coming on apace, when the songs of kuro udaidori will cease until spring rolls around again.

July 5, 2022

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